What are personal statements?
Personal Statements are essays that you write for most college admissions and applications and scholarship applications. They may be short essays (200-500 words) or longer essays (900 words). Generally, essays should be typed, double spaced with a font no smaller than a 10. One page is usually equal to 250 words.
Why do I need one?
Most admissions applications and scholarship applications require a personal statement or answers to short essay or long essay questions. This is your best chance to tell readers about you. Use the personal statement for either college admissions or scholarship applications to highlight your personal experiences. Statements also give reviewers a chance to see your writing skills.
When will I write one?
Most applications are due between November and February of your senior year in high school.
What does a personal statement look like?
The suggested format is two pages, double spaced, typed and follows this structure:
When writing a personal statement, use standard formatting; it is more important to demonstrate that you can say what you need to say concisely than to be exhaustive.
How do I write one?
In your writing, make sure you are answering the question posed. You should support your main ideas with the best example or anecdote. Be sure to include only relevant details and use smooth transitions to tie your essay together. The process of writing a personal statement could be broken into steps:
Step One: READ application thoroughly and ANSWER the specific questions posed by each application. It is tempting to use the same statement for every application, but you may limit yourself this way. If a particular addmissions application asks a question about something that you do not address, you will lose points!
Step Two: Give yourself enough time to review and revise and especially to get someone else to review it for you. If you give an outside reader a very short window to read and give feedback you may not get the best results, or you may not get it back in time to use the feedback constructively.
Step Three: Review the rough draft yourself. Give the draft to a peer and an adult (teacher, counselor, parent) to review at the same time you are reviewing your draft even if it isn't your best work. Things to keep in mind when reviewing your draft:
Did I answer the question?
Check the writing tips against your writing
Step Four: Incorporate feedback from others; make corrections.
Step Five: Read it once more, if you have time, have someone else read it once more.
Step Six: Finalize the draft by incorporating the last revisions.
Step Seven: Make photocopies as well as keeping an electronic copy if possible. The last thing you want to do is start all over if your hard drive craches, you lose your disk or your application is lost in the mail.
What do I write about?
Some applications give very open ended questions. Here are some suggestions for organizing your thoughts into a coherent essay:
What are your goals? Why did you choose thest goals?
Why did you choose to apply to this college/for this scholarship?
- What are your values and philosophy about education? Why?
- Is there one or two accomplishment(s), either in school or outside of school that you are particularly proud of? What have you learned from these experiences?
- Do you have a time-management system? What is it?
- How do you schedule your time to include both academic and social activities?
- What difficulties or disadvantages have you faced in your life and how have you overcome them? What is one area in which you are weak and how have you or do you plan to overcome that weakness? (Keep this very brief.)
- Identify a leadership experience and talk about what the most important lessons of the position and experience.
What makes you unique?
- Speak from the heart. These personal statements are likely to be read by some administrator or adviser, not an academician or professor, so don't try to simply impress the reader with fancy verbiage or rhetoric.
- Get personal. Don't be afraid to tear at the heartstrings of your reader. Colleges nowadays are looking for people who both think and feel.
- Try to introduce new ideas in a comical way. A personal statement that makes people laugh is better than a personal statement that doesn't evoke any emotion.
- Check your work. Don't be happy with just the first draft, you should have learned better than that in high school. Find someone you feel comfortable and qualified letting revise your personal statement and give it to them.
- Colleges really do use and read these personal statements, so make sure to put some real effort into it.
Consult with your college counselor and/or English teacher if you are having trouble
- Make sure to use proper grammar. Nothing looks worse to an administrator than a potential student saying "Thank you for considering excepting me into your college."
- Be careful disclosing crimes you may have committed, you are not legally protected from self incrimination through these personal statements. Also, I doubt any college would want to hear about "the time you knocked off a Piggly Wiggly."
- Remember that if you are trying to be funny, that sarcasm doesn't read well so try to use outright humor instead
Click here for a personal statement sample.
Home » Application Process » How To: Write Your Personal Essay
How To: Write Your Personal Essay
Posted by Carolyn Pippen on Wednesday, September 11, 2013
While we still have a few more days until the official beginning of fall, around here it feels a lot like the season has already begun. Classes are back in session, the leaves are falling off the trees, and most of our counselors have departed for the two-month marathon of flights, high school visits, and college fairs that we call travel season.
In addition, thousands of high school seniors across the country have begun the process of filling out college applications. Regardless of whether or not one of your applications will be submitted to Vanderbilt, we would like to offer you a few nuggets of the expertise we have acquired working with students and evaluating applications over years.
Thus we give you: The “How To” Series. Over the next several weeks, we will be posting lists of tips concerning various pieces of the application that we hope will make this process a little less overwhelming for all of you. Today’s tips focus on the personal essay.
- Be thoughtful, but not fretful. As a senior, most of the accomplishments that will make up the bulk of your application – academic performance, test scores, and extracurricular involvement – are said and done. In a sense, the only part of the application over which you have complete control right now is the essay. Don’t let this scare you! While the essay is a valuable tool that we use to understand you better, it is rarely if ever a “make or break” component of your application.
- Keep the “personal” in personal essay. The Common Application presents six different prompts for you to choose from when writing your essay. To be honest, we don’t really care that much what you write about, as long as you’re writing about you. In other words, don’t spend the entire essay detailing the life of your favorite and most accomplished family member, but rather focus on how that person has affected you and your life decisions. Don’t give us a detailed narrative of your favorite community service trip, but instead tell us what you learned from that trip and how it has changed your outlook on the world. This is one time when it’s okay to be self-centered – more than anything, we want to know about you!
- Don’t try to guess what the reader wants to hear. If you ask a hundred different admissions counselors what their favorite kind of essay is, you will likely get a hundred different answers. Trying to figure out what topic will get us most excited is like trying to guess which outfits the judges of Project Runway are going to like the most – no matter how many times we watch, Heidi always manages to confound. Instead of trying to game the system, focus on the things that get you excited. If nothing else, I promise that passion will show through.
- Feel free to be funny or creative – but don’t overreach. If your friends tell you that you’re the funniest person in the class, use that skill to your advantage. If your creativity is what sets you apart from your peers, let that innovation guide the structure and content of the essay. On the other hand, if every joke you make at the cafeteria table falls flatter than a pancake in a Panini press, don’t try to fake it. Figure out what your personal strengths are, and stick with them.
- Tell us something we don’t already know. When writing your essay, be sure to keep in mind all of the other pieces of your application we already have in front of us while we’re reading it. Do not use this space to summarize your extracurricular involvement or your academic achievements if we’ve already seen these things in your resume and transcript. We know that there is more to you than just test scores and leadership roles, so tell us more!
- Ask for input (but not too much). Your parents, friends, guidance counselors, coaches, and teachers are great people to bounce ideas off of for your essay. They know how unique and spectacular you are, and they can help you decide how to articulate it. Keep in mind, however, that a 45-year-old lawyer writes quite differently from an 18-year-old student, so if your dad ends up writing the bulk of your essay, we’re probably going to notice.
- Edit, proof, polish, and breathe. Beyond gaining insight into your personal psyche, the purpose of the essay is also to showcase your written communication skills. Treat this essay just like any class assignment – write it early, proof and revise, keep an eagle eye out for spelling and grammatical errors, and make sure it is presented in a clean and polished way. That being said, do not call our office in a panic if you discovered a missing article or a misused “its” after you hit submit. Because of our holistic selection process, no student will be denied based on one element of his or her application; this includes typos.
Posted in Application Process, General Information, The College Essay and tagged: academic credentials, breathe, college applications, Common Application, essay writing, extracurricular activities, Heidi Klum, how to apply, personal essay, Project Runway